Preventing Heartworm Disease in Pets

Heartworm disease is a mosquito-borne illness that is typically founding cats, dogs, and ferrets. Heartworm disease is a serious condition that can result in organ failure and death if left untreated. Today, our Rochester vets explain why prevention is key. 

What is heartworm disease?

Heartworm disease is spread through mosquito bites and is primarily caused by a parasitic worm called Dirofilaria immitis. 

Pets such as dogs, cats, and ferrets can become hosts for heartworms, which means the parasitic worms can live, mate, and reproduce in the animal's body. Heartworm disease is named after the worms that live in an infected pet's heart, lungs, and blood vessels.

What are the symptoms of heartworm disease?

Heartworm disease symptoms usually do not appear until the disease has progressed. Swollen abdomen, coughing, fatigue, weight loss, and difficulty breathing are the most common symptoms of heartworm disease.

How does my vet check my pet for heartworms?

Blood tests can be performed by your veterinarian to detect heartworm proteins (antigens) that are released into the animal's bloodstream. Heartworm proteins are not detectable until approximately five months (at the most) after an animal is bitten by an infected mosquito.

What if my pet is diagnosed with heartworm?

Treatment for heartworm varies between cats and dogs. Heartworm treatment is often lengthy, uncomfortable, and potentially dangerous for your pet—and expensive for you. This is why we say prevention is the absolute best treatment for heartworm disease. 

If your pet has heartworms, your veterinarian will discuss treatment options with you. For dogs, an FDA-approved medication containing arsenic (melarsomine dihydrochloride) will be administered through a series of injections into your dog's back muscles. Because this treatment is toxic to cats, your veterinarian will discuss alternative therapies with you.

Heartworms can live in dogs for 5-7 years while in cats typically only live for 2-3. 

How can I prevent my pet from getting heartworm disease?

It's important to keep your pet on preventive medication to prevent heartworm disease. Even if they are already on preventive heartworm medication, we recommend that dogs be tested for heartworms annually. 

Heartworm prevention is much safer, easier, and less expensive than treating the disease once it has progressed. Several heartworm preventive medications can also help protect against other parasites like hookworms, whipworms, and roundworms.

Want to protect your pet from heartworm? Contact our Rochester vets to book an appointment.